[This is a monthly roundup of news articles and other materials related to environmental issues in the Middle East. It does not reflect the views of the Environment Page of Jadaliyya.]
“Saudi Arabia Warns of ‘Oil Spot’ Near Aging Tanker Off Yemen's Coast” Al-Monitor (24 September 2020)
Oil leaks have been discovered coming from a dilapidated ship still moored off of Yemen’s west coast for years, inaccessible due to Yemen’s ongoing war preventing UN forces from inspecting the vessel.
“غضب مصري من مشاورات إماراتية إسرائيلية لحفر قناة مائية” The New Arab (Arabic) (2 October 2020)
UAE-Israeli normalization has triggered rumors of potential plans to dig a new Red Sea-Mediterranean canal bypassing the Suez, sparking angry reactions from the Egyptian government.
“Socotra Residents Resort to Logging Amid Gas Shortages” (16 October 2020) and “UNESCO to Send Mission to Yemen’s Socotra Over Threats to Biodiversity” (26 October 2020) Middle East Monitor
Concerns rise that UAE-backed Southern Transitional Council forces alongside local logging due to fuel shortages could be negatively impacting the sensitive UNESCO-designated nature reserves on the island.
Egypt and Sudan
كيف كان يحصل فقراء القاهرة تاريخيا على المياه النظيفة؟ Raseef 22 (Arabic) (3 September 2020)
This historical analysis shows the construction of Cairo’s drinking water system in medieval times for the masses and elites.
“Sudan Flood Victims At Risk of Water-borne Diseases” Al-Jazeera (10 September 2020)
This video story shows how infections run rampant after historic flooding not seen for a century on the Nile River, particularly as displaced people struggle in displaced peoples’ camps and lack access to reliable medication and hospital beds.
“Families Struggle as Heavy Rain, More Floods Expected in Sudan” Al-Jazeera (19 September 2020)
Intense flooding on the Nile River, which has killed 115 people in Sudan since July, shows no sign of abating, exacerbating an already precarious economic situation in the country. Over one hundred thousand homes have been damaged and food shortages are rampant.
“Archaeologists Worry New Roads Could Damage Pyramids” Al-Monitor (24 September 2020)
New highways in the Giza Plateau raise concerns for some archaeologists that they could harm the necropolis of Memphis, while the Egyptian government denies any construction will harm the area and claims new electric vehicles to bring tourists to the area will cut down on pollution.
“Egypt Announces Record-high Crude Oil Production for First Time in Decades” Al-Monitor (24 September 2020)
Egyptian petroleum companies boast they have reached the highest oil production on record, passing sixty-five thousand barrels per day for the first time since 1957.
“How Egypt is Growing Forests in Middle of the Desert” Al-Monitor (18 October 2020)
As part of the “Great Green Wall” across northern Africa, ostensibly to combat “growing desertification,” Egypt has expanded tree plantations watered with wastewater in otherwise arid lands.
“Ethiopia Slams ‘Belligerent Threats’ After Trump Dam Comments” (24 October 2020) and “Nile Dam Dispute: Sudan, Ethiopia and Egypt Set to Resume Talks” (27 October 2020) Al-Jazeera
After President Donald Trump claimed that Egypt would “blow up” the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam on the Nile River, Ethiopian officials indirectly condemned the comments and talks resumed between the three countries after months of suspension. The United States has announced it will withhold aid money to Ethiopia over the dam dispute.
“Sudan Government Denies Rift Valley Fever Outbreak Despite Reports of Deaths" The Guardian (27 October 2020)
Local residents and doctors report of a major mosquito-borne disease outbreak spreading rapidly in Sudan, potentially due to livestock not vaccinated earlier in the year and exacerbated by the flooding in the region. However, the Sudanese government officially denies that there are any cases of Rift Valley Fever in the country at all.
“In a Desert’s Burning Sands, Shrimp” The New York Times (21 September 2020)
A new species of fairy shrimp has been discovered in the Dasht-e Lut Desert in Iran. The shrimp breeds seasonally and infrequently during years in which spring rains which pool on the desert floor.
“Iraqi Kurdistan Faces Water 'Catastrophe' As Iran Cuts Off Rivers” Middle East Eye (3 September 2020)
Low water levels on dams in Iran on the Sirwan and Little Zab rivers, as well as the potential to divert more water through new tunnels to Iranian cities, has many in Iraqi Kurdistan concerned at the impacts to farming and other livelihoods for the downriver communities.
“UN Project Hopes to Preserve Iraq’s Marshlands” Al-Monitor (22 October 2020)
An Italian-funded initiative for the UNESCO-recognized Ahwar wetlands in southern Iraq aims to develop eco-tourism infrastructure, in the hopes of both protecting environmental resources and economic livelihoods as more people migrate out of the region.
بغداد مدينة للبيع.. أو للنسيان Assafir Arabi (Arabic) (27 October 2020)
The privatization of state property in Baghdad after the war, particularly public streets and thoroughfares, may have a profound effect on ecological infrastructures, as this privatization goes in hand in hand with a neglect of sewage and waste infrastructure contributing to flooding in the rainy season.
“World Bank Cancels Loan for Lebanon's Controversial Bisri Dam Project” Middle East Eye (5 September 2020)
After plans for the controversial dam had been suspended in June, the World Bank officially ended plans to fund the dam. Environmental activists had been campaigning against the dam in the ecologically sensitive Bisri Valley.
“World Bank Cancels Loan for Lebanon's Bisri Dam, Effective Immediately” Reuters (15 September 2020)
The World Bank on Friday said it had cancelled 244 million dollars in undisbursed funds for the Bisri Dam project in Lebanon after repeatedly raising concerns about the project since January.
“Debris from Beirut Explosion Adds to Lebanon's Rubbish Crisis” Middle East Eye (23 September 2020)
Beirut and Lebanon have been undergoing a waste crisis for years due to infrastructural neglect and government corruption. August’s blast at the Beirut port has added to this, as physical detritus from the blast itself cannot be processed as the few waste management facilities were also damaged in the blast.
“‘Agricultural Jihad’: A Hungry Lebanon Returns to Family Farms to Feed Itself” The New York Times (5 September 2020)
With a tanking economy, and imported food costs soaring, leaders are urging the Lebanese to wage a campaign of self-sufficiency.
“'Money is Worth Nothing Now': How Lebanon is Finding a Future in Farming” The Guardian (25 September 2020)
These two articles document how young people, city dwellers, migrant workers, and Syrian refugees are all part of a crop of new farmers turning to permaculture and sustainable agriculture techniques in the midst of Lebanon’s ongoing food and economic crisis. The rise of home gardens and urban farms offer hope for the import-driven food system in Lebanon to become more self-sufficient, although skepticism abounds at the possibility to completely detach from a global food system.
“Two Killed as Wildfires Rage Through Lebanon, Syria” Middle East Eye (10 October 2020)
Wildfires have killed multiple and caused evacuations throughout multiple countries in the Levant.
“Wildfires Erupt in Mount Lebanon Area After Heatwave Hits Country – video” More at The Guardian (10 October 2020)
Firefighters in Lebanon have been battling fierce wildfires across the Mount Lebanon area and along the country's border with Israel. The Lebanese Civil Defense said rising temperatures and high wind speeds were contributing to the spread of the fires.
“Israel and Lebanon Begin Talks on Sea Border, With U.S. as Mediator” The New York Times (14 October 2020)
The first non-security talks in decades between Israel and Lebanon began about the Mediterranean Sea border, in which Israel already drills for natural gas and which Lebanon eyes for the potential for economic growth if they can begin drilling there.
“‘If There Were No Hashish Here, You Wouldn’t See a Single House’” The New York Times (19 October 2020)
The production of cannabis, a major cash crop in the Bekaa Valley, may finally be decreasing--not due to government crackdowns or warfare but because Lebanon’s economic crisis has dropped prices intensely and made drug trading routes more precarious.
“Paying Farmers Even Less for Their Food: The Coronavirus Excuse” Meshkal (4 September 2020)
Date farmers in southwestern Tunisia express frustration at falling date prices from middlemen due to COVID-19. Compounded by rising temperatures and decreasing water supplies, smallholder date farmers find themselves in a precarious situation as the export market is both decreasing their revenues and also one of the only options available to them.
“Protesters Demand Water, Amid Heat and Pandemic” Meshkal (9 September 2020)
Protestors in rural areas outside of Tunis have blocked roads demanding clean and accessible drinking water. The salinization of the water table and use of water for export crops has drawn the ire of residents, and the COVID-19 pandemic makes the environmental injustice of water shortages in poor areas and among rural women even worse.
“Agricultural Time During a Pandemic” Sierra Magazine (24 September 2020)
This reflective essay on the COVID-19 lockdowns and agricultural traditions in Tunisia uses the traditional Tunisian agricultural calendar as a way to measure the strange passages of time in 2020 and the increasing environmental and economic threats to agricultural lifeways.
“How Tunisia’s Shrinking Economy and Fish Stocks Put Shark on the Menu” The Guardian (28 September 2020)
While fishing for sharks in the Mediterranean is not illegal, an increase in shark meat price during an otherwise dark economic period has led to increased shark fishing. Local and global concern of the threat to shark species from direct and indirect catch means increased protection for Tunisia’s native shark species may be necessary.
“Calls for France to Reveal Location of Nuclear Waste Dumped in Algeria” Middle East Monitor (5 October 2020)
Renewed demands have arisen for France to reveal the spot where secret nuclear tests were conducted in the Algerian desert in the 1960s during colonial rule.
Footballers and Fishermen: Italy's Red Prawn War with Libya Turns Ugly” The Guardian (11 October 2020)
A crew of Italian and Tunisian fishermen have been imprisoned by Libya since 1 September as Libya accused them of fishing in their territorial waters for the prized and expensive “gambero rosso” red prawn. The fishermen’s release may hinge on the fate of four Libyans held in Italy under accusations of human trafficking, while their supporters say they arrived simply as migrants in search of work.
الفيضانات في تونس، على من يقع الخطأ؟ Inkyfada (Arabic) (13 October 2020)
Yearly fall floods in Tunis have been increasing due to climate change, but global warming also allows for government officials’ disclaiming of responsibility for urban infrastructural neglect and urban expansion into flood prone areas as a cause in worsening floods.
Palestine Israel and Jordan
أمواج البحر تشعر بأحلام النساء"... عن أسطورة السبع موجات في غزة" Raseef 22 (Arabic) (2 September 2020)
Gazan women share their stories of bathing in the Mediterranean as a traditional folk cure for marital and pregnancy problems.
“Israel’s Climate Justice Movement Has a Colonialism Problem” 972 Magazine (11 September 2020)
This opinion essay from the former head of a large Israeli environmental organization reflects on the erasure of Palestinian struggles and environmental justice from mainstream Israeli climate and environmental action movements.
“Jaffa: The Rise and Fall of an Agrarian City” Palestine Studies Blog (20 September 2020)
This historical overview of citrus cultivation in Jaffa in Ottoman and British Mandate Palestine paints a picture of a city whose economic and cultural significance was forever changed by the 1947 Israeli siege, invasion, and occupation of the city.
“'Cultivated With Love': Palestinian Farmers' Markets Flourish in the West Bank” Middle East Eye (26 September 2020)
A farmers’ market in al-Bireh has grown in popularity this summer during COVID-19, allowing farmers to bypass middlemen and residents to connect directly with small farmers to positive results on both sides.
“Chevron’s Purchase Could Unlock Israel’s Natural Gas Bonanza” The New York Times (9 October 2020)
Chevron, which recently became the United States’ largest oil company, recently bought a small natural gas company operating off of Israel’s coast in the Mediterranean. This may signal a new expansion, both by Israel and its neighbors, of exploiting natural gas drilling in the eastern Mediterranean.
“Exclusive: Documents Reveal Decades of Close Cooperation Between JNF and Elad” 972 Magazine (19 October 2020)
The Jewish National Fund (JNF), which portrays itself as Israel’s foremost environmental organization, has been secretly collaborating for decades with the settler organization Ir David Foundation to expand Jewish settlements and home takeovers in East Jerusalem.
“MEMO Photographer Starts to Document Gaza’s Marine Life” Middle East Monitor (19 October 2020)
A Gazan photojournalist has started a YouTube channel to document his diving photography and spread scientific knowledge of Gaza’s coastal resources.
“Turkey's Mount Ida: The Frontline Between Mining Giants and Local People” Middle East Eye (9 October 2020)
Environmental activists have protested new plans by international copper and gold mining companies to extract mineral deposits in a national park in northwestern Turkey. Activists have been arrested and fined for their protests and disruptions of environmental impact hearings for the project.
“Video: Forest Fires Engulf Parts of Western Syria” Middle East Eye (10 September 2020)
This short video includes footage of the wildfires which burned through Syria’s coastal provinces.
“Two Killed as Massive Forest Fires Rage in Syria” Al-Jazeera (10 October 2020)
Coverage of the fires burning through Latakia province and Syria and into Lebanon and Israel documents the historic fire season for the region.
“Assad Makes Public Appearance After Syria Wildfires” Middle East Monitor (14 October 2020)
Syrian activists have criticized Bashar al-Assad’s media appearance after deadly wildfires along Syria’s coast, claiming the visit was staged propaganda in which civilians he allegedly talked to were actually members of his security detail.